When John Richards arrived in England he immediately made his mark after being photographed on board the MV Empire Windrush in an image that has come to symbolise the spirit and resolve of a whole generation

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John Richards is the third person in the famous photograph showing three sharp looking young men arriving in England on the MV Empire Windrush. Dressed in a pin striped suit, he is standing with John Hazel (left) and Harold Wilmot. The passenger list kept in the UK National Archives describes him as 22 and a carpenter.

Like many young Jamaicans of his day, he had in fact been working as a contract labourer on US farms. It was reasonably paid work but back breaking, so when the opportunity came to travel to England and help build the Mother Country he was only too happy to take it.

Another classic photograph in the Windrush series shows John, still in his suit, at Clapham South Deep Shelter in south London, which had originally served as an air raid shelter during the Blitz. Following intervention from the Colonial Office, it was now being used to accommodate 236 migrants who had been bussed in from Tilbury Docks that day.

John vividly remembers the deafening noise of the Northern Line trains as their beds were only one level below the tracks. The racket made it impossible to have a lie in after the long voyage. Breakfast was served in a marquee on Clapham Common and afterwards all the men would go looking for jobs at the Labour Exchange in Brixton.

John soon got a job with British Rail where he worked until his retirement, mostly at the British Rail depot in Orpington, Kent. He worked hard and managed to buy a house in northwest London. But to relax, he played his favourite sport, cricket, almost every weekend. Aged 92, he appeared in official photographs yet again. Still suited and booted, he attended the thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey in June 2018 to commemorate the arrival of the Windrush 70 years previously with the few surviving passengers of the voyage.

He was given a VIP seat near the altar alongside 93-year-old Allan Wilmot, a few feet from prime minister Theresa May and other politicians. Describing the service as “great” he added: “It brings back memories yes, but I’m too old for the emotion.”

Main Photo © Mervyn Weir
Windrush 70

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